Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Two LDS Chapels In Fullerton, California Vandalized, But Authorities Claim "No Connection"; Update On Mesa Church Fire

A second Latter-day Saint chapel in Fullerton has been vandalized in as many weeks, but authorities believe the destruction has no connection to the first incident, which is being investigated as a hate crime. Full story published November 27th, 2007 in the Orange County (CA) Register. Additional report, including video, filed November 27th by KABC Channel 7 in Los Angeles.

Two windows (KABC reports three windows) were found broken at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) chapel at 801 N. Raymond Ave. near Nutwood Avenue, said Fullerton police Lt. Tom Basham. It's unclear when the vandalism occurred, but church officials said it probably happened sometime between Sunday and Tuesday morning (KABC narrows it down to sometime after 10:30 P.M. on Monday November 19th). Basham said no one got inside the church. An estimate of the damage has not been released. KABC reported that three windows were broken, but the break-in was aborted when the perpetrator discovered that it was a 22-foot drop to the gymnasium floor on the inside.

Meanwhile, police are continuing their investigation of a separate and much more serious incident on vandalism at another LDS chapel located at 2225 N. Euclid St. On November 19th, ironically the same day that an LDS chapel in Mesa, AZ caught fire and was completely destroyed, church officials notified police that a window was broken to gain entry to facility which also serves as the local stake center. A stake exercises supervision over several subordinate wards; this particular stake supervises wards in Fullerton and La Habra just to the west. This incident was reported separately by the Orange County Register on November 26th.

In the November 19th incident, swastikas and "666" were found painted on walls and across religious paintings in church classrooms, police said. A suspected vandal had used a paint brush and paint found in a closet to mark the items before spilling the paint on the carpet and breaking dishes. Damage has been estimated at $40,000, and police have now designated it a "hate crime". Two separate sets of footprints were found in the still-soft new asphalt in the parking lot before leading to the broken window. Detectives are already checking some leads.

Stake President Stanley Albrecht said Monday evening that the stake center had been closed all week for parking-lot resurfacing. "After the damage was discovered by our full-time missionaries, people in our church hurried to clean the classrooms before Sunday services. Of course, we're very disappointed someone felt this was the way to express themselves, but we're gratified there wasn't more extensive damage," Albrecht said. The church's goal is for the facility to be completely repaired in time for the upcoming stake conference.

Anyone living in Southern California who knows anything about this incident should call the Fullerton Police Department at 714-738-6715.

Meanwhile the investigation continues into the origin of the fire which completely destroyed an LDS stake center near McLellan Road and Center Street in Mesa, Arizona during the early monring hours of November 19th, leaving more than 1,500 Latter-day Saints in northwest Mesa without their regular house of worship. Damage is estimated at $3 million; the church vows to rebuild. Updated story published today by the Arizona Republic.

The on-scene investigation has wrapped up, leaving LDS stake members to comb through the charred remains and begin the process of rebuilding.

Investigators from the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Maricopa County Fire Investigation Task Force left the scene Tuesday afternoon, and met with representatives from the Mesa Fire Department late Wednesday afternoon, with results from the investigation expected sometime this week. So far, investigators are being tight-lipped about conclusions, but the process offers insight into how such cases are handled.

ATF Special Agent Tom Mangan said the goal is to systematically eliminate portions of the building that aren't related to the fire's point of origin. The chemists, structural engineers, accelerant-detection K-9s and other experts that come with the ATF team ensure Mesa has all the resources needed to resolve the issue, Mangan said.

"Mesa constantly has fires they have to work, and those investigators from these other departments have other duties, this way we're able to flood it and allow them to do their work," Mangan said. "It's a great opportunity to bring other assets and to work jointly in this type of arson scene."

The goal, Mangan said, was to devote as much as is possible and prudent to ensure all the agencies involved - Mesa, Maricopa County and the ATF have the resources they need to answer the questions that still linger more than a week after the fire.

However, there appears to be a split between different agencies regarding arson. While ATF is not ruling out arson, Mesa investigators have previously said arson did not appear to cause the fire.

Analysis: Perhaps the reason Fullerton investigators are downplaying a connection between the two Fullerton incidents is because they happened a week apart. However, LDS chapels were targeted in both incidences, and there have been no reports of vandalism to any other churches in the area. Consequently, it's premature to rule out a connection.

The appearance of swastikas and "666" graffitti is no guarantor that it was a hate crime. The use of such dissimilar symbols indicate someone who is nihilistic, who was just using such symbols to be outrageous. Besides, those who are motivated by the swastika are more likely to target a synagogue. Hostility towards religion within the white nationalist community tends to be directed more towards Christianity in general rather than Mormonism in particular, and is rarely expressed in vandalism except by a handful of renegades.

When these people are caught, in addition to incarceration, they should be sentenced to bust their knuckles repairing such damage. In addition, we should consider Singapore's solution - caning. Vandals are usually young bucks who think they're invulnerable - caning would restore some sense of vulnerability - and some humility.

Particularly despicable are the comments posted in response to the Arizona Republic story. I reported a couple of the comments as abusive.

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